In what is supposed to be one of Vaadu Veedu's most emotionally loaded scenes, a naked plump elderly man is standing in the rain weeping, while a dirty-looking tramp who wants revenge on him taunts him. The tramp then starts whipping the old man, who begins to run for his life. Still weeping. Still naked.
Yes, celebrating life's ugliness comes easy to filmmakers who're in the business of "making a mark", and Bala takes the job quite seriously in Vaadu Veedu. The movie caresses the stench and texture of the sweat, grime, dirt, crap and booze that are so much the DNA of a world that only a tragedy storyteller likes to glorify.
To the film's credit, it is almost cinematic nirvana for those who've come for this kind of thing. As the movie explores the lives of a pack of unwashed thieves who live in a slum, its visual poetry is quite impressive - right from the stunning realism in the presentation and screenplay, to the meticulous performances all over.
But fact is that like with most art movies, there is a very real danger of being led into believing that you actually like Vaadu Veedu, for fear of being accused of lacking taste. Because when you set aside the technical mastery and the theatrical treatment, the movie is pretty incoherent and pointless.
The story starts out being a comedy - a brand of humour that does not have universal appeal. Step-brothers Walter (Vishal) and Dandalu (Arya) are a pair of small-time thieves who, for some reason, the local royal heir (G M Kumar) spends a lot of time with. The erstwhile royal is still worshipped by his whole village, and the man himself refers to himself as "Highness".
Walter is an ugly simpleton, but a fine stage artiste, and Dandalu is a smart aleck. Both of them hail from a basti, where foul mouths are the order of the day. Some situational humour and the near-abusive lines make up the comedy of the film, before things take a turn for the tragic.
Characters are actually well-crafted, and it's sometimes interesting to watch some of the nuances that unfold - like Walter's innocence, and Highness' illusion of status in the present world. Which is what Vaadu Veedu is merely about; just a few unconventional and unpleasant-looking people in a few unconventional and unpleasant-sounding situations.
However, both the drama and the ugliness seem contrived and over-the-top. And lots of unanswered questions abound. What is so special about the bond that Walter and Dandalu share with the Highness? Why is the Highness a bachelor, and where is his much-hinted-about past? Is this a film about class mingling with mass because of the sheer loneliness? Is this a story about the underdog Walter?
What happens to Walter's talent - was his brilliant navarasa act all just a prop? And the Dandalu's "girlfriend" - how is she even drawn to a man with zilch redeeming features (he doesn't even do anything for a living), especially when he woos her by being mean to her?
Vishal (who, it was reported, had his eye surgically altered so he could get a squint) revels in his portrayal as the extremely bad-looking Walter. Arya's dubbing seems a little unnatural, but he's quite brilliant. And the girls, who are the romantic interests of these men, are pretty.
Yuvan Shankar Raja's score is not very noticeable. The cinematography is good but the nativity is hard to identify with, despite the effort made to customize certain parts of the film to Telugu tastes.
Vaadu Veedu is a film that thrives on capitalizing on hideousness, and whose only whiff of relief for unprepared audiences is a charisma-oozing Suriya in a 5-minute appearance. Skip it unless you know what you're going in for.